The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal workers compensation program. The LHWCA generally covers injuries that occur while working in employment that involves the loading or unloading of ships, the construction, repair, or disassembly (“breaking”) of ships, or the construction of a harbor. An extension of the LHWCA known as the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) covers injuries resulting from employment that involves the extraction of natural resources from the outer Continental Shelf.

Injuries covered by the LHWCA and OCSLA generally result from accidents that occur on the job site. An employee who is struck by a forklift, crushed between two containers, or burned in a drilling rig fire will nearly always be entitled to compensation for a disability caused by the accident.

Injuries that do not occur at the employee’s usual place of work may or may not be covered, depending on the circumstances. Whether compensation for a car accident is covered by the LHWCA or OCSLA is a question that workers’ compensation lawyers must frequently answer.

LHWCA Car Accident Injuries

A maritime employee who is covered by the LHWCA will generally be entitled to compensation for disabling injuries that occur while working. However, the “situs test” of the LHWCA limits coverage to injuries that occur at workplaces that are on or adjacent to navigable waters. Work injuries that occur at a wharf, pier, drydock, or terminal are typically covered.

Injuries that are caused by car accidents are covered when they occur at the employee’s work location. For example, if a harbor worker’s supervisor instructs the worker to transport a set of tools from one location to a different location in the same harbor and the worker is injured in a collision while driving that short distance, the injury will probably be covered.

On the other hand, an employee is not covered while driving to or from work. Most workers’ compensation laws incorporate the “coming and going” rule. That rule provides that an employee is not working, and is therefore not covered by workers’ compensation, while the employee is traveling from home to work or from work to home. Courts and the Department of Labor have applied the “coming and going” rule to the LHWCA.

State workers’ compensation laws often make exceptions to the “coming and going” rule. An exception under state law may apply if the employee has been instructed to report for work at a distant work location rather than the employee’s customary place of work. Another exception typically covers traffic accidents if the employee was riding in transportation that the employer requires the employee to use (such as a company bus).

Since the LHWCA generally limits coverage to injuries that occur on or adjacent to a wharf, pier, drydock, or terminal, exceptions to the “coming and going” rule under state workers’ compensation laws might not apply to the LHWCA. Different judges read the “situs test” in different ways, but when a maritime worker is injured at a location that is distant from the water, the injury will probably not be covered. For that reason, most car accident injuries are not covered unless they occur near the water while the employee is on duty.

OCSLA Car Accident Injuries

The “situs test” is a bit different under the OCSLA. While work injuries on a drilling rig will usually be covered, injuries might also be covered if they occur at an onshore location that has a substantial connection to the offshore job. A recent decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals explains how a car accident might be covered by the OCSLA.

James Boudreaux’s job required him to operate a magnetic arm that was used to perform ultrasonic scans of storage tanks on drilling rig platforms. Although Boudreaux had an onshore office, almost 90% of his work time was spent working on offshore rigs. He sometimes spent months at a time working on drilling platforms. Boudreaux employer paid him for the time he spent traveling from his office to the pickup location of the boat or helicopter that would transport him to a drilling rig.

Boudreaux was in a car accident while driving to the pickup location. On the day of the accident, he was traveling to the pickup location from his home rather than his office. Boudreaux had his tank testing equipment in his car.

Boudreaux suffered substantial injuries in the car accident that caused a permanent loss of his earning ability. After the accident, his employer gave him office work because he could no longer work on oil rigs. He was paid about $50,000 less per year after the accident.

Boudreaux argued that there was a substantial connection between his accident and his offshore work. Traveling to the pickup location where he would be transported to a drilling rig was a job requirement. Although Boudreaux was driving to the pickup location from his home rather than his office, the “coming and going” rule did not apply because Boudreaux’s employer was paying him for his driving time, making the driving a part of his job.

Boudreaux’s employer argued that there was no substantial connection between the car accident and Boudreaux’s offshore employment. However, the substantial connection test goes to the nature and location of the work the employer does, not the nature and location of the accident. 

If Boudreaux had been employed as an accountant, there might have been no substantial connection between his work and offshore drilling activities. Accountants do not work on drilling rigs.  Boudreaux’s work, on the other hand, was an integral part of oil extraction. It was necessary for him to travel offshore to perform that job. It was also necessary for him to travel to a pickup site so that he could be taken to the rig. A substantial connection existed between Boudreaux’s driving and his offshore work. His car accident injuries were therefore covered by the OCSLA.

LHWCA/OCSLA Workers’ Compensation Lawyers

Whether any particular accident injury is covered by the LHWCA or the OCSLA depends a number of facts and circumstances. The nature of the employee’s job, the location of the car accident, and the reason for which the employee was driving all play a role in deciding whether the accident is covered. A law firm that handles LHWCA/OCSLA, workers’ compensation cases, and personal injury cases is ideally suited to advise accident victims about their car accident remedies.